History of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1793–1999
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History of Dedham
The history of Dedham, Massachusetts from 1793 to 1999 begins with the naming of Dedham as the shiretown of the newly formed Norfolk County. Being named county seat brought an influx of new residents and visitors to town and Dedham experienced rapid growth with the new turnpikes and railroads. The Town was central to three major court cases, the Fairbanks Case, the Dedham Case, and the world famous Sacco and Vanzetti Case.
When Norfolk County was formed in 1793 Dedham was named as the shire town and "an influx of lawyers, politicians, and people on county business forced the town to abandon its traditional insularity and its habitual distrust of newcomers." A new county courthouse was built by Solomon Willard, the same architect who built the Bunker Hill Monument. When it was remodeled in 1863 a dome was added, but it was too large and had to be removed. A new dome sits atop the building today.
One of the new residents of Dedham was Horace Mann, who lived for several years at the Norfolk House and opened a law office in December 1823. He soon "became interested in town affairs, was often chosen Moderator of the town meetings, and was an early candidate for office." Mann served as Dedham's Representative in General Court from 1827 to 1832 as well as on the School Committee. In only his first year in Dedham he was invited to deliver the Independence Day address. In his speech he "outlined for the first time the basic principles that he would return to in his subsequent public statements, arguing that education, intelligent use of the elective franchise, and religious freedom are the means by which American liberties are preserved." Former President and then Congressman John Quincy Adams later read the address and "expressed great confidence in the future career of Mr. Mann."
Turnpikes, including those linking Boston and Providence and Dedham and Hartford, were laid through town during the first few years of the 19th century. Inns and taverns sprung up along the new roads as more than 600 coaches would pass through Dedham each day on their way to Boston or Providence. The stable behind Gay's Tavern could hold over 100 horses and eight horse teams could be switched within two minutes.
In 1802 a local mason named Martin Marsh built his brick home at what is today 19 Court Street and was then right on one of the new turnpikes. He saw the traffic flowing daily past his house and quickly turned his home into a tavern. His establishment, the Norfolk House, like the other inns and taverns in Dedham at that time, were bustling with the arrival of both the turnpikes and the courts. He maintained the tavern until 1818, and then sold it to Moses Gray and Francis Alden. It was this partnership that hosted President Andrew Jackson for lunch as he and his entourage passed through town in 1832.
The Norfolk House was also a hotbed for Republican politics in its day. It competed with the Democratic Phoenix House, so named because it rebuilt after having been destroyed by arson, which stood at the site of the present day Knights of Columbus building on the corner of Washington and High streets in Dedham Square. The proprietors of the two establishments generally stayed away from each other but "every once in a while they slipped and then there would be a short burst of newspaper venom."
A young Congressman named Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at the Norfolk House on September 20, 1848 while in Massachusetts to campaign for Zachary Taylor. He appeared uncomfortable as he arrived but
His indifferent manner vanished as soon as he opened his mouth. He went right to work. He turned up the cuffs of his shirt. Next, he loosened his necktie, and soon after it he took it off altogether. All the time, he was gaining upon his audience. He soon had it as by a spell. I never saw men more delighted. He began to bubble out with humor. For plain pungency of humor, it would have been difficult to surpass his speech. The speech ended in a half-hour. The bell that called to the steam cars sounded. Mr. Lincoln instantly stopped. ‘I am engaged to speak at Cambridge tonight, and I must leave.’ The whole audience seemed to rise in protest. ‘Go on! Finish it!’ was heard on every hand. One gentleman arose and pledged to take his horse and carry him across country. But Mr. Lincoln was inexorable.
The Norfolk House was also the site where "on June 4, 1810, in an expression of public outrage, a number of Dedham citizens assembled" and founded the Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves. Today the "Society is the oldest continually existing horse thief apprehending organization in the United States, and one of Dedham’s most venerable social organizations."
The Fairbanks case
The first major trial to be held at the new courthouse was that of Jason Fairbanks. He lived in the family homestead on East Street and was courting Elizabeth Fales, two years his junior at 18. Jason had told a friend that "planned to meet Betsey, in order to have the matter settled" and that he "either intended to violate her chastity, or carry her to Wrentham, to be married, for he had waited long enough." On May 21, 1801, Fales met Fairbanks in a "birch grove next to 'Mason’s Pasture'" and told him that she could not marry him.
Fales was stabbed 11 times, including once in the back, and her throat was slashed. Fairbanks staggered to her home, covered in blood, and told her family that she had committed suicide. He also told them that he had also attempted to take his own life, but was unable to, and that accounted for his wounds which left him ""still alive, but in a most deplorable situation." The editor of the local paper, Herman Mann, was called to the scene and reported the incident in the next edition of his weekly newspaper under the headline "MELANCHOLY CATASTROPHE!"
Fairbanks' murder trial opened on August 5, 1801 at the Courthouse but interest in the case involving two prominent families was so great that the trial was moved to the First Parish Meetinghouse across the street. When that venue proved to still be too small, the trial again moved to the Town Common. Prosecuting the case was the then-Attorney General and later Governor James Sullivan and defending Fairbanks was future Boston mayor and US Senator, Harrison Gray Otis. The trial lasted three days after which Fairbanks was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He escaped on August 18, at which time a $1,000 bounty offered for his capture and a newspaper implored readers to "Stop the Murderer!"
Fairbanks was captured in Skeensborough, New York as he attempted to escape to Canada. On September 10 he was returned to Dedham from the Boston jail and was hanged. To ensure that he would not escape again two Army Cavalry and one volunteer militia units stood guard. In addition to the military presence, "the 10,000 people who showed up at the Town Common to witness the execution were five times the town’s population at the time."
Within days of the execution the first of four instalments of the Report of the Trial of Jason Fairbanks was published by the Boston firm Russell and Cutler. It was 87 pages long and was issued over the course of several months, making it "the first demonstrably popular trial report published in early national New England." A number of books and pamphlets would be written about the case in the months and years to come including "one of the earliest novels based on an actual murder case," the Life of Jason Fairbanks: A Novel Founded on Fact.
The Dedham case
In the early 19th century, all Massachusetts towns were Constitutionally required to tax their citizens "for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety." All residents of a town were assessed, as members of the parish, whether or not they were also members of the church. The "previous and long standing practice [was to have] the church vote for the minister and the parish sanction this vote."
In 1818 "Dedham [claimed] rights distinct from the church and against the vote of the church." The town, as the parish, selected a liberal Unitarian minister, Rev. Alvan Lamson, to serve the First Church in Dedham. The members of the church were more traditional and rejected Lamson by a vote of 18-14. When the parish installed and ordained Lamson the majority of the Church left "with Deacon [Samuel] Fales who took parish records, funds and silver with him." The parish, along with the members of the church who remained, installed their own deacons and sued to reclaim the church property.
The case reached the Supreme Judicial Court who ruled that "[w]hatever the usage in settling ministers, the Bill of Rights of 1780 secures to towns, not to churches, the right to elect the minister, in the last resort." The case was a major milestone in the road towards the separation of church and state and led to the Commonwealth formally disestablishing the Congregational Church in 1833.
Early in the 19th century Dedham become a transportation hub and the "existence of quick freight service promoted a burst of industrial development." Within 50 years of the railroads' arrival the population would almost double to 6,641. By the end of the century a gazetteer with entries for each city and town in Massachusetts would describe "the substantial old court house, with its massive columns and yellow dome; the county jail; the house of the boat club on the bank of the Charles; the beautiful building of the Dedham Historical Society; the ample town-hall, erected in 1867 as a memorial of the fallen brave; the old cemetery and the beautiful modern one; and the new library building with its 10,000 volumes,— making a list of attractions such as few towns can show."
In 1837, the year after the first rail line came to town, Dedham had a population of 3,532. By then the mills and factories in town were producing cotton and woolen goods, leather, boots, shoes, paper, marbled paper, iron castings, chairs, cabinet wares, straw bonnets, palm-leaf hats, and silk goods. Together they were worth $510,755 with the silk goods alone worth $10,000. Dedham Village was described at the time as "very pleasant, and possesses every inducement to render it a desirable residence for the mechanic or man of leisure." The "scenery" of the town was described as "varied and picturesque" with "an appearance of being well kept, and the roads are noticeably good."
Dedham played a role in the development of baseball. On May 13, 1858 members of the various town ball teams in the Boston area met in Dedham to form the Massachusetts Association of Baseball Players. The Association developed a set of rules that came to be known as The Massachusetts Game. There were no foul balls, four bases, and games lasted until one team had scored 100 runs.
In 1888 Dedham's 6,641 residents lived in 1,228 dwellings and had 97 farms. The farms produced a product valued at $5,273,965 and yet was only $192,294 in 1885. The two major banks included the Dedham National Bank with over $300,000 in capital and the Dedham Institution for Savings with more than $2,000,000 in deposits. There were two weekly newspapers, the Dedham Standard and the Dedham Transcript. The first public schoolhouse in the country had by this time grown "complete system of graded schools, which are provided for in thirteen buildings having a value of about $60,000; to which has recently been added a new high school building in a central location in which have been embodied all known improvements."
On January 11, 1895 the citizens of the town gathered in Memorial Hall to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the first free, tax supported public school in the nation. A "felicitous" speech was made by Governor Frederic T. Greenhalge and an "historical address" was made by Rev. Carlos Slafter. Lieutenant Governor Roger Wolcott, Judge Ely and the Honerable F. A. Hill also spoke.
Railroads and subdivisions
Within a few decades of the turnpikes' arrival railroad beds were laid through Dedham. The railroad was at first "considered dangerous. It was new fangled. People didn’t trust it, so they wouldn’t ride it. Only a very few brave souls in those opening years" ever boarded one. This fear was short lived, however as the first rail line came in 1836 and by 1842 locomotives had put the stagecoach lines out of business. The first line was a branch connecting Dedham Square to the main Boston-Providence line in Readville. In 1848 the Norfolk County Railroad connected Dedham and Walpole and in 1854 the Boston and New York Central ran through town.
In 1881 the Boston and Providence Railroad company built a station in Dedham Square out of Dedham Granite. There were more than 60 trains a day running to it in its heyday, but it was demolished in 1951 and the stones were used to build the main branch of the Dedham Public Library. In 1886 the railroad built a new bridge over High Street and placed a granite plaque there to commemorate both the new bridge and the 250th anniversary of the town's incorporation. The plaque was removed sometime thereafter and ended up in the woods near railroad tracks in Sharon. It has since been returned to Dedham.
Moses Boyd was the "well-known and gentlemanly" conductor of the Dedham branch of the Providence Railroad. At a party for his 25th wedding anniversary his passengers presented him with gifts of cash that totaled between $600 and $700. In addition to the passengers from Dedham, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, the President and Superintendent of the railroad attended the party at his home and presented him with a silver plate.
Nathaniel Whiting arrived in Dedham in 1641 and over the course of the next 182 years he and his descendants owned mills along Mother Brook and a great swath of farmland. In 1871 William Whiting, the last member of the family to own a mill, sold the remainder of the family farm and Charles Sanderson began laying it out in a subdevelopment to become known as Oakdale. Today, Whiting Ave is home to both the High School and the Middle School, and Sanderson Street runs into Oakdale Square.
The following year the Farrington farm was laid out into house plots and became the Endicott neighborhood, and in 1873 the Whiting/ Turner tract of land was developed into Ashcroft. By 1910 the area on the opposite side of the Charles River began to be developed. It was once known as Dedham Island or Cow Island, as the Long Ditch connected the river in two spots and bypassed the 'great bend.' Today, the neighborhood is known as Riverdale. The Sprauge farm by the Neponset River became known as the Manor and in the last major development of town, the Smith Farm became the neighborhood of Greenlodge.
In 1800 Colburn Gay of Dedham wished to marry Sarah Ellis of Walpole. The laws at the time said that a wedding must take place in the town of the bride, however Gay insisted that Rev. Thomas Thatcher preside. Thatcher was the minister in Dedham's third parish, however, and could not officiate outside of the town's borders. To resolve this dilemma the couple stood on the Walpole side of Bubbling Brook, and Thatcher stood on the Dedham side. They were married across the stream and had two children before Sarah died in 1810.
In 1843, 85 years after the Acadians arrived, the first Catholic Mass was said in Daniel Slattery's home where the police station now stands in Dedham Square. For the next three years after that first Mass with eight Catholics present, John Dagget, Slattery's brother in law, would drive to Waltham each Sunday and bring Father James Strain to Dedham to say Mass. In 1846 Dedham became part of the mission of St. Jospeph's Church in Roxbury and Father Patrick O'Beirne would celebrate Mass in the Norfolk House, by this time known as Temperance Hall.
Large number of Irish immigrants fled the potato famine a few years later and many of them settled in Dedham. By 1857 so many had settled that Father O'Beirne built the first Catholic church in Dedham, St Mary's Parish. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 Dedham men from all religious persuasions responded to the call but "no church in Dedham lost so many men in proportion to their numbers" as St. Mary's did. In 1880 the current church was built on High Street, next to the rectory that had been purchased three years earlier. Thousands attend the laying of the cornerstone by Archbishop John J. Williams and a special train was run from Boston to accommodate all those who wished to be present. The master of ceremonies was Fr. Theodore A. Metcalf, a descendant of Michaell Metcalfe, the teacher. Theodore Metcalf may also have been a descendant of Jonathon Fairbanks. At the time St. Mary's, "a fine stone church at a cost of about $125,000" was completed there was a Methodist, two Baptist, two Congregationalist, two Unitarian, and two Episcopal churches in Dedham.
It was also in 1880 that the Town Meeting set aside of the town cemetery, Brookdale, for Catholics to be buried in. The following year two Protestant businessmen gave great financial support to the fledgling parish. John R. Bullard contributed the Dedham granite used to construct the great upper church. Albert W. Nickerson paid off the debt still remaining on the old church and contributed $10,000 to help complete the new one.
Nickerson first arrived in Dedham in 1877. He was the president of Arlington Mills in Lawrence and director of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and built a home near Connecticut Corner where he "took an active part in community affairs and made generous donations to charitable causes." He sold the house to his brother George when he had a dispute with the town over taxes and improvements he wished to make to the property a few years later and moved to an estate on Buzzards Bay. Nickerson entertained President Grover Cleveland here and helped convince him to purchase the adjoining estate Grey Gables.
Several years later he bought another parcel in Dedham, this time a 600-acre (2.4 km2) estate on the Charles known as Riverdale. The estate was the boyhood home of ambassador and historian John Lothrop Motley. In 1886 he commission the architectural firm of Henry Hobson Richardson to build him a castle on the estate and hired Frederick Law Olmsted's firm to do the landscaping. The castle has a number of interesting architectural elements but its most famous is by far its numerous secret passages and "legendary underground mazes and hallways." It was built on top of a rocky hill "so that the Castle and the River appeared magically to carriages or cars arriving through the forested Pine Street entrance."
On September 21, 1862, a slave plasterer working on an antebellum mansion in Wilmington, North Carolina named William B. Gould escaped with seven other slaves. They rowed a small boat 28 nautical miles (52 km) down the Cape Fear River and out into the Atlantic Ocean where the USS Cambridge of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron picked them up as contraband. Gould joined the U.S. Navy and believed he was "defending the holiest of all causes, Liberty and Union." Beginning with his time on the Cambridge and continuing through his discharge at the end of the war he kept a diary of his day-to-day activities. In it he chronicles his trips to the northeastern U.S. to Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and England.
After he was discharged from the Navy at the Charlestown Navy Yard he married Cornelia Read in November 1865. Cornelia was a former slave who was then living on Nantucket and they corresponded throughout the war. The Goulds moved to Milton Street and together they would have two daughters and six sons. In Dedham Gould would "became a building contractor and community pillar."
Gould "took great pride in his work" when he resumed work as a plasterer and helped to build the new St. Mary's Church. One of his employees improperly mixed the plaster and even though it was not visible by looking at it, Gould insisted that it be removed and reapplied correctly. Gould helped to build the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepard in Oakdale Square, though as a parishioner and not as a contractor. It may have been the Episcopal church he attended in Wilmington as a slave that taught him to read and write, and thus to be able to keep his diary.
Gould was extremely active in the Grand Army of the Republic's Charles W. Carroll Post 144. He "held virtually every position that it was possible to hold in the GAR from the time he joined [in 1882] until his death in 1923, including the highest post, commander, in 1900 and 1901." Five of his sons would fight in the First World War and one in the Spanish–American War. A photo of the six sons and their father, all in military uniform, would appear in the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, in December 1917. Gould's great-grandson would describe them as "a family of fighters."
When he died in 1923 at the age of 85 he was interred at Brookdale Cemetery. The Dedham Transcript reported his death under the headline “East Dedham Mourns Faithful Soldier and Always Loyal Citizen: Death Came Very Suddenly to William B. Gould, Veteran of the Civil War.”
In 1900, the same year St. Mary's was dedicated, a talented young lawyer from Boston bought a home with his new wife at 194 Village Avenue. Sixteen years later Louis D. Brandeis rode the train home from his office and his wife greeted his as "Mr. Justice." While he was at work that day his appointment to the United States Supreme Court had been confirmed that day by the United States Senate. Brandeis was a member of the Dedham Country and Polo Club and the Dedham Historical Society as well as a member of the Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves. He wrote to his brother of the town saying: "Dedham is a spring of eternal youth for me. I feel newly made and ready to deny the existence of these grey hairs."
In 1904 the home of Henry Bradford Endicott, the founder of the multimillion dollar Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company had his home on East Street burn to the ground. The fire department was not able to get to the estate in time as they were dealing with three other fires simultaneously, including one at the fire house. Henry cleared the ashes away and built a new homestead on the 15-acre (61,000 m2) parcel. The three story building he constructed has nine bathrooms, eight bedrooms, a library, a music room, a ballroom, a mirrored parlor, a butler's kitchen, a linen room, and servants' quarters.
When he died in 1920 he left the building to his stepdaughter Katherine. She died in 1967 without any children and willed the land and the estate to the town for "education, civic, social and recreational purposes". At the time "town didn't know quite what to do with it" and "Town Meeting voted to offer it to the Commonwealth." Governor John Volpe took the title to the 25 room estate in a ceremony on December 7, 1967 and intended to use it as a governor's mansion. It soon became apparent that it would be cheaper to build a brand new mansion than to remodel the estate to Volpe's wife's "lavish taste" and "crazy notions" than to renovate the Endicott Estate and in 1969 the Commonwealth gave the estate back to the Town.
In 1922 the Noble and Greenough School moved from Boston to Dedham. They purchased the Nickerson Castle and turned the estate into a 187-acre (0.8 km2) campus in Riverdale along the Charles River. In 1957 Ursuline Academy moved from Boston's Back Bay to a 28-acre (110,000 m2) parcel in Upper Dedham. The Ursuline nuns who ran the school purchased the property which included a grand manor house designed by Boston architect Guy Lowell. The house, described as "one of the grandest of grand mansions west of Boston, and comparable to what one would see in Newport," was built by Francis Skinner for his new wife Sarah Carr, in 1906. Today, the mansion once known as the Federal Hill Farm has "the richest and most elaborate residential rooms in Dedham" and serves as a convent for the sisters who run the school.
The 1960s brought a number of events to Dedham that, like the building of the Fairbanks House, may not have seemed important at the time have proved to be major events. After an executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 allowed federal employees to unionize, the Federal Employees Veterans Association met in an emergency convention in Dedham. They voted to reorganize themselves into the National Association of Government Employees, today a large and power public union.
David Stanley Jacubanis robbed a bank in Dedham the following year, after he was paroled in Vermont. He was, for a time, on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 10 Most Wanted List. Several years later, on March 1, 1967, Ma Riva's Sub Shop opened in Dedham. It eventually would become D'Angelos and then bought out by Papa Gino's. Both are still headquartered on the old Route 1 in Dedham.
Sacco and Vanzetti
The historic Sacco and Vanzetti trial was held in the Dedham Courthouse in 1921 under heavy police guard. The two were Italian-born American anarchists, who were arrested, tried, and executed for the killings of Frederick Parmenter, a shoe factory paymaster, and Alessandro Berardelli, a security guard, and for the robbery of $15,766.51 from the factory's payroll on April 15, 1920. Many believe that they "were the innocent victims of political and economic interests determined to send a message about the rising tide of anarchist violence."
The trial opened on May 31, 1921 with heavy security. Police were stationed at every entrance of the courthouse and all those entering were searched for weapons. The State Constabulary patrolled outside on horseback and motorcycles and the courtroom was retrofitted with bomb shutters and sliding steel doors that could seal off that wing of the courthouse in case of an attack. The cast iron shutters on the windows were designed and painted to match the wooden ones on the rest of the building. The courtroom was so protected that "the trial would be conducted in a far more formidable cage than the simple prisoner's cage that surrounded Sacco and Vanzetti during their trial."
During the trial Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, who was then in Washington, invited Sacco's wife to stay at his home near the courthouse according to a letter from Brandeis's daughter at the Dedham Historical Society. He was not the only member of the nation's highest court to be involved with the case. Felix Frankfurter, then a law professor at Harvard, "did more than any individual to rally "respectable" opinion behind the two men, saw the case as a test of the rule of law itself." Several years later, in May 1926, Frankfurter would travel to the Dedham courthouse to make a motion for a new trial after another man, also in the Dedham Jail, confessed to the crime.
The motion was denied by Judge Webster Thayer in October and in the next 10 months the Supreme Judicial Court, a federal judge and three Supreme Court Justices, including Brandeis, each denied motions for either a new trial or a stay of execution. On August 23, 1927 the two were electrocuted in the Charlestown jail. The "executions sent hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets of six continents." The American embassy in Paris was surrounded by tanks to fend of rioting mobs and demonstrations in Germany ended with six deaths. In Geneva "over 5,000 protesters destroyed all things American: cars, goods, even theaters showing American films." Frankfurter would write a scathing critique of the case entitled "The Case of Sacco-Vanzetti: a critical analysis for lawyers and laymen." It would first be published in The Atlantic Monthly and then as a hardcover book.
The population of Dedham has grown more than 10 times since 1793, reaching its peak around the year 1980.
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- The term Connecticut Corner has generally fallen out of use in Dedham, but it is listed as a historic district in town. The historic district generally runs down High and Bridge Streets from slightly passed Lowder Street to slightly passed Common Street. It encompasses the Town Common and the houses around it.
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- 1865 Massachusetts Census
- "Population of Massachusetts Cities, Towns & Counties: Census Counts and Current Estimates, 1930-1998 with Land Area and Population Density in 1990" (pdf). City of Newton, Massachusetts. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
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